The Yankees Say the Red Sox Are 'The Team to Beat': Wait, What?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2018

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge, left, and Giancarlo Stanton stretch at baseball spring training camp, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

When you picture a battle between David and Goliath, you likely aren't casting the New York Yankees in the role of David.

To hear some members of the Yankees tell it, however, it's time to fit them with a pinstriped slingshot in their upcoming tussle with the big, bad Boston Red Sox.

"The Red Sox are the team to beat because they won the AL East last year," outfielder Brett Gardner said Monday, per Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.

General manager Brian Cashman took things a step further last month.

"We're 'The Little Engine That Could,'" he said on ESPN New York's The Michael Kay Show (via ESPN.com's Coley Harvey).

He continued:

"I look at [the Red Sox] as the defending American League East champions. We have to find a way to close the gap on them. They just added another piece to improve on what they already had. So we already know who they are and what they are. And our job is to find a way to figure out to somehow get past them..."

Yes, the Red Sox signed slugger J.D. Martinez. Yes, they are the defending division champs. But the Yankees as a chugging underdog struggling to climb the hill?

We'll pause while you finish chortling. 

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Senior Vice President, General Manager Brian Cashman speaks to the media prior to introducing Aaron Boone as New York Yankee manager at Yankee Stadium on December 6, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

These are the same Yankees who perennially sit at or near the top of the MLB payroll heap. The same Yankees who have hoisted 27 Commissioner's Trophies in their rich, storied history. 

The same Yankees who acquired the reigning National League MVP and most fearsome power hitter in the game this winter to gild an already-potent lineup.

With Giancarlo Stanton in the fold, Aaron Judge ready to build on last season's 52-homer explosion and catcher Gary Sanchez arguably the best of the bunch, New York boasts a burgeoning Murderers' Row 2.0.

The bullpen is among the best in the game, and the rotation should be solid behind Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery. 

The Yankees aren't free of flaws, but painting them as a piddling second fiddle strains credulity.

Martinez will help the Red Sox's offense, no question, and he joins a superlative young core that includes outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi and third baseman Rafael Devers. Keep in mind, however, that Boston's offense finished dead last in the AL in home runs in 2017. 

Boston can count on ace Chris Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel to be top-notch, but the Sox have question marks in both the bullpen and the rotation, where they need David Price and Rick Porcello to rebound from ho-hum years.

FanGraphs projects New York as the toast of the division, foretelling a 95-67 record for the Yankees compared to a 93-69 mark for Boston. 

Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Both would be playoff teams under that scenario, but the Yanks would be alpha dogs. 

The Yankees also have baseball's third-best farm system, according to Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter, while the Red Sox check in at No. 22. Thus, it's tough to make the case for the Bronx bunch as anything other than a juggernaut.

Above all, the rekindling of the ancient, simmering rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is good for the game. It attracts eyeballs and ratchets up the drama.

Here's another wrinkle: The Yankees hired Aaron Boone to be their new manager this offseason. Boone, of course, launched a walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 7 against the Red Sox in the 2003 American League Championship Series, sealing New York's trip to the World Series.

"I think there's a reason why the ribbing I've always taken in Boston has been good-natured," Boone said earlier this month, per MLB.com's Mike Lupica. "I mean [the Red Sox] did go on to win three World Series in the next 10 years. Who knows what would have happened if I didn't hit that home run?"

That's a winking statement. It's reasonable to assume Cashman was also winking when he made his "Little Engine" remarks. Both he and Boone surely understand they're driving a finely tuned sports car, even if they call it an undersized locomotive. 

The Yankees are Goliath. The Red Sox are Goliath.

When that's true, baseball is more fun.

     

All statistics and projections courtesy of FanGraphs

Related

    Report: Indians to Acquire All-Star Closer Brad Hand

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Report: Indians to Acquire All-Star Closer Brad Hand

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Tough Day for Gary Sanchez in Scranton

    New York Yankees logo
    New York Yankees

    Tough Day for Gary Sanchez in Scranton

    Pinstripe Alley
    via Pinstripe Alley

    Giancarlo Stanton Enjoys All-Star Break with Model

    New York Yankees logo
    New York Yankees

    Giancarlo Stanton Enjoys All-Star Break with Model

    New York Post
    via New York Post

    Trout Doesn't Owe MLB a Damn Thing

    MLB logo
    MLB

    Trout Doesn't Owe MLB a Damn Thing

    Jacob Shafer
    via Bleacher Report